UI Game 1 notebook: Bertrand's bucket breaks silence
CHAMPAIGN — To welcome John Groce and his family to Illinois last year, the Orange Krush decided to remain completely silent until the Illini scored their 10th point of the game. It’s a tradition made famous by Groce’s alma mater, Taylor University.
Groce appreciated the gesture so much that he asked the Krush to do it again this year.
So, in Friday’s season opener against Alabama State at State Farm Center, the Krush obliged, taking its seats as soon as the ball was tipped.
When Joseph Bertrand’s crossover and bucket gave the Illini a 10-5 lead at 16:04, the students went nuts.
“I thought Krush was great (Friday night). They listen to the directions we give them, and I thought the 10th point was awesome,” Orange Krush vice president Ryan Gant said.
The other fans at State Farm Center weren’t as cooperative, clapping and cheering at good Illinois plays early in the game before the 10-point threshold was met.
“The upper sections might not have gotten it so well, but we’ll work on our marketing next year and make it an even better experience,” Gant said.
So, which version of the Orange Hush was better, this year’s or last year’s?
“Last year had a little more special feeling because it was the first one,” Gant said.
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Sean Harrington has paid attention to the Cliff Alexander recruitment from afar. He’s got a unique perspective. He played at Illinois for Bill Self, the current Kansas coach. Harrington also spent time on Self’s staff at KU and on staff at Illinois under Bruce Weber.
The favorites to land Alexander appear to be Illinois and Kansas. Harrington, though, is torn on where he wants to see the five-star power forward land.
“That’s the beauty of my job is you don’t really care. As an Illinois alum, you always want to see Illinois sports do well, but it’s really nice not to have a say in it. I’m not going to lose sleep over it either way,” Harrington said.
It’s been a positive recruiting fall for the Illini. They’ve landed three top-50 prospects since September. Memphis (Tenn.) forward Leron Black and Louisville (Ky.) guard Quentin Snider committed to Illinois for the Class of 2014. Simeon swingman D.J. Williams made a commitment for the 2015 class earlier this week.
“It’s great that Illinois is in there with a bunch of recruits,” Harrington said. “Everything I’m hearing right now is that it’s 50-50 between Illinois and Kansas (for Alexander) and it sounds like Illinois might have the upper hand right now, so things are looking good.”
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Recruiting has changed tremendously since Harrington came out of Elgin in 1999. There was no social media, and constant updates weren’t being circulated around the country on individual prospects.
“It’s completely different. It’s a whole-new atmosphere with AAU basketball; so many influences are around kids now whether it’s family, coaches, relatives,” Harrington said. “Ten, 15 years ago, you had an idea if you were getting a kid; now you don’t know if you’re getting a kid even on the day he signs. It’s so unbelievable how much that’s changed. You used to know you had a kid wrapped up six months before he signed, and now you just don’t have a clue until he actually signs on that dotted line.”
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Harrington called Friday’s game for ESPN3. It’s the start of his second season as a television analyst. He’s had the opportunity to watch the new-look Illini in practice to get a feel for Groce’s second Illinois team.
“It’s a good group of guys. Obviously, they’re really young, a lot of new faces, inexperienced guys,” Harrington said. “The older guys have to be consistent, that’s the biggest thing. They don’t have to have monster years, but I think they have to be consistent. You hope one or two of these young guys can emerge, or every game you have one or two of those guys step up.”
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Longtime official Ed Hightower was honored on the court prior to Friday night’s game by the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Friday was the last game for Hightower at State Farm Center. He will retire at season’s end. Hightower has officiated 12 Final Fours in his career.
Groce embraced Hightower on the court before the game and shared a few words with him. UI athletic director Mike Thomas presented Hightower with a basketball before the game.